In the wake of a deadly shooting at a Florida airport earlier this month, the police chief overseeing the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport says his force is prepared should a similar assault strike here.
"You can rest assured that we have the training and preparation, and we would respond in a way that would minimize the loss of life," MSP Police Chief Mike Everson said Tuesdayat a Metropolitan Airports Commission meeting. Everson commands a force of some 105 officers, one of the largest in the metro area.
His presentation was prompted by a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6 that left five dead and six wounded. Police say Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran, retrieved a gun from his checked bag, loaded it in a nearby bathroom, and emerged shooting in the airport's baggage claim area.
The incident has raised questions about airport security, how guns are transported and regulated when checked as baggage by passengers. Santiago reportedly followed the rules for transporting his gun when he boarded a Delta Air Lines flight in Anchorage, Alaska. The flight connected through MSP before arriving in Fort Lauderdale.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires guns to be transported in checked bags only.
Passengers checking a firearm must declare it with the airline, although TSA does not coordinate with airlines to track firearms in flight, said spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.
When asked if the airline is reviewing policies for checking guns following the Fort Lauderdale tragedy, Delta spokesman Michael Thomas said, "That's not something I can speak to at this point." Delta and its affiliates carry 73 percent of the passengers at MSP.
But some security experts say TSA rules work just fine.
"It's a process people have been doing for decades, really, without problems," said Jeff Price, an aviation security expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Santiago allegedly "took advantage of what is a perfectly legal process."
Changes to TSA and airline rules for checked firearms wouldn't have prevented a deranged person from doing harm, Price said. "It would just inconvenience law enforcement and others who do travel with firearms legally checked in baggage."
"Nothing is going to ever prevent this kind of thing 100 percent," Price said. "Public areas are just hard to protect."
Airports are safer than most public areas because "you already have police on site, so if there's an active shooter, the response time is always faster than any other location," he said. Police in Fort Lauderdale responded to the shooting within 85 seconds.
But violent incidents at airports are much more disruptive. "If you shoot up a shopping mall, you stop shopping for a few days," Price said. An incident at an airport causes the delay and cancellation of "hundreds of aircraft and disruption to the national aviation system."
David Hyde, a Toronto-based independent security consultant, said security at baggage claims is "not strictly enforced in most cases."
Anyone can walk to the baggage carousel areas at airports, and large groups of passengers congregate there to pick up their luggage. From a security standpoint, this can be problematic, Hyde said.
Chief Everson says MSP police officers maintain a highly visible presence in the baggage areas at both terminals, "so the public feels confident that we are keeping them safe."
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752 @MooreStrib